I have actually had this book for a while but never got around to reading it. Another of my resolutions for the new year was to start reading some of the books that have been guiltily starring at me back from groaningly full bookshelves. I am a big fan of Andrew Marr’s BBC Radio Four show – Start the Week. I listened to it religiously when I lived in England, it ran from 9-10am on Monday mornings, which meant that I was always late for work on Mondays and then this set everything in train for the rest of the week (w ell that is my excuse anyway). Fortunately working at a university we did not really have set starting time but somehow the 9am start time seems ingrained in me – well it did then, now, too many late nights of work have erased that.
Anyway, I digress, Start the Week for those who do not know it was a radio interview show with three to four guests each having recently written a book, performed in a show, opened an exhibition or done something very interesting. It was always a fantastic hour of listening to these very interesting people talk on some theme for the week. I still listen via podcast. Andrew Marr was amazing in that he had always read, seen, visited or listened to every guests book, show or exhibition. He is definitely one of those super achievers that I was highly envious of – although with his stroke in 2012 we can wonder whether this brilliance came at some personal cost.
Stephen Grosz was one of the guests on one week, and the theme for that week was Family Secrets. He was joined by Deborah Cohen who had also written a book about Living with shame in Victorian times, Sarah Dunant author of Blood and Beauty and Alex Graham, a TV producer for the Who do you think you are TV show in the UK. The discussion that day was riveting and I ended up buying both Grosz and Cohen’s book.
Grosz is a psychoanalyst and had written this book about the different stories of his patients – obviously changing the names, but presenting a fascinating account of how different people deal with the minor and major crises in their lives, the problems that are thrown at them and the ones of their own making. Over his career Grosz has spent more than 50,000 hours listening to people tell their stories – some of his patients have been coming to see him weekly, for years. I wonder whether he does not know some of his patients better than their own families! The Examined Life is the collection of these stories and it is a thoroughly human book, one in which the both the mystery and also banality of everyday life is told through the lives of his patients. The book includes chapters on topics such as why people tell lies, how paranoia can relieve suffering and prevent a catastrophe, why parents envy their children, why people are boring, why we mourn the future and on bearing death. In each case Grosz presents the story of one of his patients – he holds back on presenting his own thoughts and psychoanalysis of the situation until it is necessary for the story and what results is the telling of situations that I think most of us will be able to relate to, or at least imagine. In his preface he writes one of the reasons for this book is to show the desire we all have to be understood and to understand the things that have happened to us. He writes “…At one time or another, most of us have felt trapped by things we find ourselves thinking or doing, caught by our own impulses or foolish choices; ensnared in some unhappiness or fear; imprisoned by our own history.” In reading the stories of others it opens a view to understanding ourselves, and as a result this is a comforting and satisfying book. I am giving it four stars.
Next week is another non-fiction book – A short book on drawing by Andrew Marr.